Sacred Cock Fights

Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body. James Joyce captured my current state in that brilliant sentence.

I’m back in Bali, but parts of me are still arriving and parts of me never left! It is an odd sensation, very odd, and one that I enjoy exploring in my discovery writing. I’ve been half way around the world twice in 45 days with a quick back-and-forth hop between Minnesota and New York sandwiched in-between. My mind goes and my body tags along, sometimes kicking and screaming. Then my body arrives but my mind may have taken a side trip and doesn’t catch up until later.

But the parts of me actually here are residing in this charming, second floor room with many windows and great, western light.

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The balcony wraps the corner and extends to an area where I can sit and write, daydream, or observe the daily life of an upper class Balinese family.

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This part of the balcony overlooks the family temple, but also the public temple across the street. I arrived in the middle of a very important three-day ceremony. There has been constant activity, not the least of which are the cock fights. Yes, cock fights. I requested an explanation from my host, Joni K, about the sacredness of fighting cocks…”Why in the temple?” I was curious. In that slightly apologetic way that is so engaging, he explained that at first, long time ago, just two ‘chickens’ fought so that the blood could be used for offerings. “But,” and the dimples appear, “people enjoy. Now many chickens fight and much money is made and lost.” He told me how much cash is bet on a single fight. “Who keeps the money?” I asked, thinking it might all be donated to the temple. “One who has winning chicken,” he replies. I thought for a moment then said, “Joni, where can we get one of these chickens?” His uproarious laughter warmed my heart. I haven’t lost my touch. I can still make the Balinese laugh.

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Since first coming to Bali I have been enamored with the temple drumming. The drum sounds at about 6 a.m. It signals morning and I love the haunting beauty of it coming through the darkness over the rice fields. Now I live across the street from the drum. It sits in a tower of the temple that is eye-level with my balcony. Today the holy man was striking it every 10 seconds as people in ceremonial dress brought their offerings. I caught a photo of him from the balcony. How can you not love drumming…even up close…especially up close! Something primal in me resonates!

Made Parna Painting

Ubud is the cultural and artistic capital of Bali. In this family, both Joni and his uncle are well-known painters. Made Parna paints in the traditional Balinese style and sells his very expensive works in Jakarta. He took me into his studio to see the works in progress. What kind of patience does one have to possess to create in such intricate detail?

This painting by Made depicts Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, and science. According to Wikipedia, It was with her knowledge, that Brahma created the universe. She is a part of trinity “Saraswati”, “Lakshmi” and “Parvati”Painting Traditional. All the three forms help trinity “Brahma”, “Vishnu” and “Shiva” in the creation, maintenance and destruction of the Universe.

The Hindu religion is complex. Each village interprets and practices it as they see fit. So the moment I think I’ve got a piece worked out I go somewhere else and it is entirely different.

I’ve quit trying to understand. I find it’s better to simply go with the flow whenever I’m invited. And the Balinese are quick to extend that invitation! The very same day I arrived Joni and his wife wanted me to accompany them to the evening temple celebrations. I never say no, but that night I politely declined. I wasn’t sure what remnants of self I could gather up, and even if there were a few shreds on hand, they looked ghastly.

Joni photoJoni’s style is 180 degrees in the opposite direction!

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He sees color and transparency, shape and contrast, and applies it to canvas. His paintings have a satisfying balance which typifies what the Balinese strive for. They believe their rituals serve to maintain a balance between good and evil.

Another uncle is a stone carver. His talent has adorned every building in this family’s amazing complex. The entrance to Joni’s father’s home is a stellar example of the family stonecarver’s genius.

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However, in Bali it is hard to compete with Nature. I have a western view. When my room filled with golden light about 6:30 p.m. last night I hurried outside. This resplendent sunset brought tears to my eyes.

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So here I am, plopped down in the midst of these wildly creative folks in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I can feel inspiration seeping back into my shriveled pores. As each wayward part of me arrives, and I become an integrated being once again, the juices will flow. They can’t help it. Ubud is creativity central.  It’s no accident that I’m here…or almost here!

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John Hardy Jewelry is Big Business in Bali

I know what I expected. What I got was a jolt of reality.

I made the appointment the day before and my visit to the John Hardy Jewelry Compound was confirmed for 11:00 a.m.  I arrived, signed in, and a lovely Balinese woman introduced herself as my guide. We crossed a little thatched roof bridge and entered another world.

To clarify a few points, John Hardy sold the company in 2007. The two men who purchased the brand were his CEO, Damien Dernoncourt and his Senior Designer/Creative Director, Guy Bedarida. John Hardy himself went on to imagine, fund and build The Green School in Bali. (See my earlier post.) The jewelry compound at first glance appears green and serene.

I am standing on a bamboo path that leads to the huge boat-shaped showroom where the collections of John Hardy jewelry are displayed.

The interior is stunning. The jewelry cases are on bamboo pedestals. The two in the middle are single columns and the displays along the sides sit atop criss-crossed bamboo structures. The flooring is a woven bamboo material that has significant give to it. Since footware is removed upon entering, during the entire shopping experience my feet had a subtle massage. (It would never pass U.S. Building Codes!) This showroom houses the collections that are being discontinued, 30% off. There is another room slightly below this one, completely enclosed and air conditioned, where the new collections are displayed.  There are no discounts in that room but I was served a complimentary glass of amazing iced lemongrass tea with turmeric, ginger, and cane sugar syrup.

Leaving the surreal environment of the showrooms we entered the factory itself. I snapped one picture and was advised that photos would not be allowed in these areas. Gone were the bamboo fronds and breezes. I was in hot rooms with row upon row of men and women sitting at long tables, bent over their work. Some were cleaning the tiny pieces of wax that will be used for creating the molds for each miniscule part that makes up an exquisite John Hardy work of art. Some were applying those pieces to a cuff bracelet, an earring or a ring. Some were creating the beautiful woven silver chains, link by excruciating link, that become the bracelets and necklaces that are sold for hundreds, even thousands of dollars each. I was told that the workers can create up to 10 centimeters of chain per hour. Each piece of the link is about the size of the curved end of a paper clip. They do this for seven hours a day.

Approximately 700 people are employed here. The factory is immense. My guide led me through room after room and explained the process from beginning to end. A few of the orange shirted workers looked up as I passed, but most were focused diligently on their work. In the rooms where the molds are heated to melt the wax it was hot. In other areas the processes produced fumes. The people work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an hour off for free lunch that is served cafeteria style under the huge banyan trees.

Management eats at this table after the workers have had their meal.

There are organic gardens where  vegetables are grown. The produce is used for meals at the compound. Here one small patch of ground is being prepared for planting.

What had I expected? I had a romantic notion that all of this took place outside in the fresh air under bamboo roofed pavilions. I imagined laughter and an atmosphere of creative energy. I pictured maybe 60 people…max! Silly me. This is BIG BUSINESS. This is capitalism. This is all about money with an attempt at maintaining the goodwill of the Balinese by planting bamboo trees with a percentage of the profits. So, hypothetically, a silver bracelet that may have cost $25 to make, sells for $900, and 16 baby bamboo trees get planted when someone purchases it. (It says so right inside the bracelet.)

As I rode back through the rice fields we passed an older Balinese woman walking along the side of the road, bare breasted with her sarong skirt and a huge basket of produce on her head. I didn’t photograph the woman, but I did take this shot of the field.

It’s a bit tough to integrate everything. Some of the most expensive, beautifully refined jewelry in the world is being created right here within steps of where the old woman walked.  Many of the workers are people who, themselves, are incredible artists. But they can make more money sitting elbow to elbow in a hot, smelly factory doing a single job day after day, than they can creating their own pieces. Is it any different than farming out jobs in the garment industry to countries where people work for little or nothing, or any industry for that matter? Seeing it first-hand gives me a completely different perspective. I feel thrown off-balance. But that’s what reality does when it catches me unprepared for truth.

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